In a recent post, I shared my favorite iPod Touch applications, which is a list of software that I find myself recommending to others who have an iPod Touch or an iPhone. It occurred to me that there are a number of online applications that I can’t do without, but when I mention some of them in casual conversation, I’ve found that a lot of people haven’t heard of them.
Here is a list of my favorite free online services. These services can be accessed from anywhere you have access to a web browser, and I use most of them on a daily basis. You might notice some duplication to the applications I listed in my iPod apps post, but that’s mostly because I gravitated to many of the iPod apps because of my love of the online services they worked with.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Gmail, so there’s not really any point of me telling you about it. The big selling points for me are the excellent spam filtering and the free IMAP access. Using IMAP, you can view all of your mail folders, not just the inbox, using a mail client application. It works great on my iPod. While we’re on the topic of iPods, the iPod contacts information will also sync with Gmail’s address book, which saves a lot of duplicated effort.
You’ll probably notice a theme with the first four items on this list, but Google Calendar is, in my opinion, a nice straightforward calendar application. My favorite feature is its ability to act like an Exchange Server, so if you have a calendar application (again, like the one on the iPod Touch) that can sync with an Exchange server, it’ll work fine with a Google calendar. Also, I recently discovered that if I invite my work email account (which uses Lotus Notes…) to a Google Calendar meeting, it will add it to my work calendar.
Google Reader is an RSS reader and aggregator. If there are news sites, blogs, webcomics, etc. that you like to read, chances are they expose a “RSS feeds.” If you subscribe to these feeds using Google Reader (or any RSS reader for that matter), you can keep track of what entries you’ve read and which you haven’t. Likewise you only need to go to one place to read all your content. Why Google Reader specifically? Well, it’s convenient, since I use so many other Google services, and also because it works with Byline on my iPod.
If you’ve never used an online document editor, you might be surprised how full-featured they’ve become. Using Google Docs, I store and edit a number of “Word”-type documents and spreadsheets in the web browser. I haven’t put all of my documents online, nor do I intend to. What I do put there are documents like the spreadsheet I use to track my vehicles’ gas mileage and our shopping list. The gas mileage spreadsheet I like to be able to update from anywhere, so that I can record my fill-up before I misplace the receipt. The shopping list is a document I keep on my account, and I’ve got it set up to share with my wife. We can both add and remove items (using our own accounts), and there’s no manual merging of lists.
Among other things, Dropbox is an online service that lets you place some files online and retrieve them from a web browser. Even though there are applications for your computer and iPod to sync your files, I mostly use the online features. One of the main things I use Dropbox for is keeping my collection of batch files, scripts and other tools that I never know where I’m going to need them.
Toodledo is a web-based task list with several integration points with other systems and services. Its a fairly new alternative to Remember The Milk (which I used for quite a while), but it has some great features. It can show your tasks on your Google Calendar on the day that they are due, notify you using SMS/email/etc., and sync with an iPod Touch app (which isn’t free, but is very cheap). One of the main reasons I like Toodledo is their concept of “contexts” for each task. For instance, if you’re sitting at your desk at work, there’s no point in seeing tasks that you need to do at home, and if you’re out running errands, it’s nice to know what tasks you need to be out of the house to perform. Context divide your tasks into group like these.
Last on the list, but only because I just recently discovered it, is LogMeIn. LogMeIn is a remote access tool, and it’s free for personal use. Using their service, I can access and control (for instance) my home PC from my desk at work or I can troubleshoot my family’s computers without the need to travel. You have to install a small application on the PC that you intend to control, but nothing needs to be installed on the PC that you’re controlling from. It even works, albeit not quite as smoothly, if you have ActiveX and Java disabled on the client PC. I was surprised how easy it was to set up; you don’t even have to manually open ports on your firewall or set up port forwarding on your router.
As with all online resources, there’s always a chance that these services will cease to exist, so if you use them, please be careful to keep local backups of anything that’s important to you. Each of these services does have a mechanism for making backups, but I haven’t streamlined all of them yet. That will be a topic for another day.